Anna Maria Roos (1862−1938)


Anna Maria Roos was born in Stockholm on 9 April 1862 and died in Bombay, India on 23 April 1938. Author, teacher, theosopher and composer. Studied at the Advanced Teacher Seminary for Women in Stockholm 1879−81. Editorial assistant at Ord och bild magazine 1898−1902. Chief editor at Nya Idun magazine 1898−1905. As children’s songwriter, author and illustrator, Anna Maria Roos was an indisputable part of childhood for a whole generation of Swedes.


Anna Maria Roos grew up together with four brothers as the only daughter to Postmaster General Adolf Wilhelm Roos and his lavishly gifted and well-educated wife Sophie Nordenfalk. As a child, Anna Maria Roos dreamed of living like Robinson Crusoe. However, in contrast to this initially mild dreamy temperament, later, when she attended private classes for girls from age eight to twelve, she became known for her lively imagination and daring pranks. She began writing poems and composing nursery rhymes at an early age. With striking capacity, while conducting a multitude of extracurricular activities, she continued her studies from the fall term of 1875 to the spring of 1877 at the Åhlin School in Stockholm.

Eager and hungry to learn, Anna Maria Roos devoured books by female Swedish authors such as Selma Lagerlöf, Alice Tegnér and Gurli Linder while studying at the Advanced Teacher Seminary for Women in Stockholm. Even when confronted by her sharp tongue, she was cheered on by her erudite circle of friends. Literary meetings began and ended with theatre performances, continuing with poetry readings, during which Roos’ own poems were frequently performed to melodies by the 18th century Swedish songwriter Carl Michael Bellman. In 1890, under the pseudonym ‘Alfaro’, she published the texts I Gryningen and Lilla Elnas sagor. Critics delivered both sympathetic and harsh reviews of I Gryningen, whereas Lilla Elnas sagor became so popular that they financed the publication of her first collection of poems under her own name. In 1898 she began work as editorial assistant at Ord och bild magazine and published Luve Lulls sagor.

Even though she had a teaching degree, she was relatively shy in the presence of children. She remained unwed and childless and only worked as a teacher for a short period as a substitute. Whereas her texts and music give an idealised picture of Sweden and family life, during her own childhood she experienced emotional conflicts. By way of her own authorship and lyricism, by connecting the worlds of children with adults, in her engagement for equality of the sexes, and with her strong religious interests, she stood as a powerful gestalt at the entrance of the century for women and children: the 20th century.

Impaired by restlessness, anxiety and poor health, Roos spent most of her remaining life abroad. After a ban in Sweden in 1915 on the ‘laying on of hands’ healing practice she spent time in countries such as Egypt, Palestine, Italy, Germany, the United States and Tenerife. Her interest in theosophy sent her to India, where she died in Bombay in 1938.


At the turn of the century, Anna Maria Roos was probably the most popular Swedish children’s author and composer. Although her children’s songs are not in main focus in Roos’ oeuvre, her funny, expressive and melodic works have received enthusiastic critical reviews. ‘If it is true that nothing other than the best is good enough for children, so has the rare event happened, that they now have a book that is good enough for them’, writes for example the newspaper Stockholms Dagblad about Gräshoppans visor 1−2 (1899), illustrated by Elsa Beskow. In a letter from 1901 to her friend, noted feminist Ellen Key, Anna Maria Roos describes how she will soon make her debut as a composer; it is easier for her to compose music  - especially since she always hear music when writing her texts. In her stories, boys and girls meet elves and are invited into a world of adventure inhabited by supernatural creatures. In Månsken (Moonshine) she allows for instance Lilly, Willy and Ted to venture out in the middle of the night to fetch silver from the moon in a lake. In Mariae Nyckelpiga (Maria Ladybug) children and animals can even speak with one another and solve each other’s problems.

In later years, several of Anna Maria Roos’ songs were made into singing games of song and gestures, accompanied by movement descriptions. The journey from games to children’s comedies was not far. In 1914, the day after Christmas, was the premier at Intima Teatern in Stockholm for Roos’ children’s fairy play in five acts with music, Arabia land. According to the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, it contained all that one could honestly ask for in a children’s play with a funny story: ‘There are princes and princesses, a couple of farmer’s children who become princes’ and princesses’ consorts, good fairies, witches, a dreadful feisty robber, ‘nigger slaves’, enchanted swans and lots of other goodies that children are usually delighted by.’ Besides this, the play was accompanied by an arrangement of many simple melodies. The play was recommended to parents who wanted their children, ages eight to twelve, to see a cheerful, fairily play.

Camilla Hambro @ 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

I gryningen, collection of poems, 1894.
Lilla Elnas sagor, fairytales for children, 1894.
Tysta djup, 1895.
I hvitavall, for children, 1895.
Luve lulls sagor, for children, 1898.
Sagan om den sköna prinsessan Li-hang-tse, 1899.
Marika, 1901.
Aderton år, collection of poems, 1902.
Fariseism i våra dagar, 1902.
Valands saga, 1903.
Sagan om Ivalde och hans ätt, 1903.
Araber, 1905.
Svipdags saga, 1906.
Syster Dione, 1907.
Elsie von Tharow, 1908.
Framtidens religion och framtidens kvinna, 1908.
På sällsamma vägar, 1908−09.
Ett gammalt familjearkiv, 1909.
De sju ljusen, for children, 1912.
Hem och Hembygd, for children, 1912.
Teosofi och teosofer, 1913.
Gustav Vasas äventyr i Dalarne, for children, 1914.
Ur Spaniens diktning, 1914.
Lekar och sagospel, plays for children, 1915.
Ur svenska historien, play for children, 1915.
Jockum och de båda trollen, play for children, 1916.
Arabia land och andra sagospel, plays for children, 1937.


Boman, Ulla: Landskapsbilden på Sörgården och i Bullerbyn, positiva och negativa värderingar, Uppsala: Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Uppsala, 2005.
Lindhjem, Anna
: Kvinnelige komponister i Skandinavien, Fredriksstad Centraltrykkeri AS, Norge, 1931.
Lindström, Ingegerd: Anna Maria Roos − inte bara Sörgården, ett reportage bland böcker och brev, Stockholm: Rabén och Sjögren, 1989.
Löfgren, Eva Margareta: Historien om Sörgården, in: Från Sörgården till Lop-nor, red. Bo Ollén, Stockholm: Carlssons förlag, 1996.
Netterstad, Märtha: Så sjöng barnen förr. Textmaterialet i de svenska skolsångböckerna 1842−1972. (Skrifter utgivna av Svenskt visarkiv 8; Skrifter utgivna av Svenska barnboksinstitutet 15), Stockholm: Svenskt visarkiv och Svenska barnboksinstitutet, 1982
Nordlinder, Eva: Anna Maria RoosSvenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 30, Stockholm: Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 1998−2000.
Ollén, Bo (ed.): Från Sörgården till Lop-nor. Klassiska läseböcker i ny belysning, Stockholm: Carlssons, 1996.
Reimers, Lennart: Barnslig musik genom tiderna, in: Gunnar Berefelt (ed.): Ur Barndomens Historia, Stockholm: Centrum för banrkulturforskning vid Stockholms universitet, 1995.
Zetterholm, Finn: Barnvisan i Sverige, Stockholm: Proprius, 1969.

Summary list of works

Fairy plays (Arabia land), songs, children’s songs (Gräshoppans visor, Maria Nyckelpigas visbok and other collections).

Works by Anna Maria Roos

There are no works by the composer registered